While acknowledging in a reported interview to have done so, US President Donald Trump has denied downplaying the severity of Covid-19.
Mr Trump said he had “up-played” it during a TV event with voters.
The assertion contradicts statements made by Mr Trump earlier this year to journalist Bob Woodward, when he said he exaggerated the seriousness of the virus to prevent panic.
Mr Trump also reiterated on Tuesday that, amid scepticism from health experts, a vaccine could be ready “within weeks.”
No vaccine has yet completed clinical trials, leading some scientists to fear that the campaign for a vaccine before the presidential elections on 3 November is motivated by politics rather than health and safety.
Trump played down the virus purposefully, Woodward ‘s book states,
Coronavirus: The week when for Trump it all changed
According to data obtained by Johns Hopkins University, more than 195,000 individuals have died in the US with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, for the first time in its 175-year history, the journal Scientific American endorsed a presidential candidate on Tuesday, backing Democrat Joe Biden for the White House.
The magazine said that Mr. Trump “rejects facts and science” and characterized as “dishonest and incompetent” his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
What was Trump saying?
Mr Trump was asked at Tuesday’s city hall meeting held by ABC News in Philadelphia , Pennsylvania, why he would “downplay a pandemic that is proven to affect low-income families and minority communities overwhelmingly.”
“Mr. Trump answered,” Oh, well, I didn’t downplay it. I really up-played it in a lot of ways, in terms of action.
“My acts were very strong,” he said, citing a ban imposed earlier this year on people traveling from China and Europe.
“Had I not put the ban on it, we would have killed thousands of more people. When we did that, we saved a lot of lives,” Mr. Trump said.
The US ban on international travelers who were recently in China came into effect in early February, while a ban on travelers from European countries was enforced the following month.
Yet Mr Trump has been accused of being reluctant to introduce virus-cutting steps.
In February, one epidemiologist told the New York Times that restricting travel to and from China was more of an emotional or political response.
Dr Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the newspaper, “The cow is already out of the barn and we’re now talking about closing the barn door.”
Despite alerts in January and February, Mr Trump “did not establish a national policy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or specific health recommendations,” Scientific American said in its statement on Tuesday.
What did Woodward tell him?
Mr Trump was interviewed 18 times from December to July by Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972 and is one of the most known journalists in the US.
In an interview with Woodward in February, Mr Trump suggested that he knew more about the nature of the disease than he had previously claimed.
The president said the coronavirus was deadlier than the flu, according to a recording of the call.
“It goes through the air,” Mr Trump is heard saying on the tape. It’s always harder than contact. You don’t have to contact stuff. Right? So you just breathe the air, you just breathe the air, and that’s how it went through.
“That’s a very tricky one, then. That is a very responsive one.
Mr Trump said later that month that the influenza was “very much under control” and that the case count would be close to zero soon. He also publicly indicated that the flu was more harmful than Covid-19.
Mr Trump, speaking on Capitol Hill on March 10, said: “Just keep cool.” It’s going to go down.’
Nine days later, the president told Woodward, after the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency, “I always wanted to play it down.” I still want to play it down, because I don’t want to trigger a panic.
In Philadelphia, what else did Trump say?
Mr. Trump, who is seeking re-election, reiterated his earlier statement that the virus would go away on its own and people would “grow …” “Herd mentality” possibly refers to “herd immunity” when resistance to a disease has been established by enough people to avoid its transmission.
He once again cast doubt on his own administration’s scientific recommendations on mask-wearing.
“The notion of a mask is a good one, however … You tap it constantly. You touch your forehead. You hit the plates. There are people who think that masks are not healthy,’ he said.
Using face masks is strongly advised by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr Trump made conflicting statements on face masks, dismissing them as dangerous on the one hand, and calling on Americans to “display patriotism” by wearing them on the other hand.